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Susan Glaspell

Her Life and Times

Linda Ben-Zvi
New York: Oxford University Press, 2005
First edition, wrappers

 
Contents

 

Venturesome feminist," historian Nancy Cott's term, perfectly describes Susan Glaspell (1876-1948), America's first modern woman playwright, winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for drama, one of the most respected novelists and short story writers of her time, and a central figure in the avant-garde movement in Greenwich Village between 1913 and 1922. In her own life she explored uncharted regions, breaking new ground for women; and in her writing she created undaunted, idealistic women characters who became models for future feminist writing. Her depictions of women's struggles for self definition and her visions of a more egalitarian America are still pertinent today.

Born in Davenport, Iowa, just as America entered its second century, Glaspell took her cue from her pioneering grandparents as she sought to rekindle their spirit of adventure and purpose. A social and cultural critic by age eighteen, she worked her way through university as a news reporter, and then turned to fiction. In the bohemian Greenwich Village community, she was a charter member of the Liberal Club, its social and cultural center, and Heterodoxy, the radical organization for women. Her most important contribution was her work with the Provincetown Players, the first indigenous American theatre company, which she helped found. Her plays established a different type of drama on the American stage, offering new dramatic forms and focusing on pressing social and political issues, particularly the roles of women in society. Although frail and ethereal, Glaspell was a determined rebel throughout her life, willing to speak out for those causes in which she believed and willing to risk societal approbation when she found love. "Out thereólies all that's not been touchedólies life that waits," Claire Archer says in The Verge, her most experimental play. The biography of Susan Glaspell is the exciting story of her personal exploration of the same terrainótoward the verge.

 

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